Were You Baptized? How? Why?
“Look! a body of water; what prevents me from getting baptized?—Acts 8:36, NW.
1. How widespread is general knowledge of some form of baptism?
JEHOVAH’S Word, the Bible, contains an abundance of counsel on baptism. It shows baptism, immersion, to be an initial step of obedience required by the Scriptures of each one who makes a dedication to Jehovah. Why? What is its significance? What purpose does it serve? Our readers are situated in all parts of the earth and many of them have experienced some form of water “baptism” with a religious significance, and have an understanding of the meaning of the ceremony practiced in different places by different religions. Before we discuss the Scriptural meaning of baptism for Christians, it may be well for us to consider what Christian baptism is not.
2. In effect, what is the teaching that baptism is a sacrament?
2 Generally speaking, in most religions of the world, both in ancient times and at this day, water baptism is considered to be a sacrament. One of the great religious wrongs done to men is this false teaching of religion that water immersion is a sacrament. It is not a sacrament as it is set out in the Scriptures. The teaching that baptism is a sacrament is in effect the teaching that the ceremony or art itself has merit and imparts grace and benefit to the one being baptized. When a person is actually baptized he is immersed in water, and the sacramental claim is made that the act of being immersed or wet by water results in amazing things for the individual thus baptized.
3. The Catholic Encyclopedia claims what concerning baptism?
3 The following information is taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II, and is here quoted to show what is claimed for the baptism ceremony. “The Decree for the Armenians” in the bull “Exultate Deo” of Pope Eugene IV: “Holy Baptism holds the first place among the sacraments, because it is the door of the spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church. . . . The effect of this sacrament is the remission of all sins, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due from sin.” From “Etymology”: “In ecclesiastical usage, however, when the terms Baptize, Baptism are employed without a qualifying word, they are intended to signify the sacramental washing by which the soul is cleansed from sin at the same time that water is poured upon the body.”
4. In what way does the Bible contradict the false claim that baptism is a sacrament?
4 This water immersion with the claimed result of forgiveness of original sin thereby means that the immersed one will receive life in heaven because, according to Catholic claim, “original sin deprived the human race of an unearned right to heaven.” Viewing baptism as a sacrament obscures many truths of God’s Word. We cannot here enter into a detailed discussion of all the Scriptural doctrines involved in a consideration of the false claims made for baptism as a sacrament. However, if you have been studying God’s Word and this periodical for a time you know that remission of sins does not come to one because he gets wet with water, neither original nor subsequent sin, but that only Jehovah’s provision through Christ Jesus’ sacrifice of his perfect human life frees mankind from sin and death. (John 1:29; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:24-26; 1 John 2:1, 2) Neither could a dipping in water save the individuals of the corrupt old world from punishment that is due for willful sin. (John 15:19; Gal. 1:3, 4; Rev. 18:3-8) For the same reasons immersion in water does not constitute an individual a member of the church or body of Christ, the congregation.
5, 6. As what do pagan religions view baptism, and how widespread is the doctrine?
5 Commenting further on the matter of water baptism, The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “How natural and expressive the symbolism of exterior washing to indicate interior purification was recognized to be, is plain from the practice also of the heathen systems of religion. The use of lustral water is found among the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Hindus and other.” It is a fact that among the heathen, pagan religions washing and baptizing in water is also viewed as a sacrament that imparts much merit. Non-Catholic authorities agree with this Catholic authority that such is the case and thus two authorities unite in proving the non-Christian claim or theory that water baptism is a sacrament to be of demon or Devil origin.
6 To quote from The Two Babylons by Hislop: “This doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration also is essentially Babylonian. Some may perhaps stumble at the idea of regeneration at all having been known in the Pagan world; but if they only go to India, they will find at this day, the bigoted Hindoos, who have never opened their ears to Christian instruction, as familiar with the term and the idea as ourselves. . . . We find different ancient authors bearing direct testimony both to the fact of this [Babylonian] baptism and the intention of it. . . . they who were thus baptised were, as Tertullian assures us, promised the consequence, ‘REGENERATION, and the pardon of all their perjuries.’ Our own Pagan ancestors, the worshippers of Odin, are known to have practised baptismal rites, which, taken in connection with their avowed object in practising them, show that, originally, at least, they must have believed that the natural guilt and corruption of their new-born children could be washed away by sprinkling them with water, or by plunging them, as soon as born, into lakes or rivers. Yea, on the other side of the Atlantic, in Mexico, the same doctrine of baptismal regeneration was found in full vigour among the natives, when Cortez and his warriors landed on their shores. . . . The reader has seen already how faithfully Rome has copied Pagan exorcism in connection with baptism. All the other peculiarities attending the Romish baptism, such as the use of salt, spittle, chrism, or anointing with oil, and marking the forehead with the sign of the cross, are equally Pagan.”
7. To what extent are devices of demon origin employed in today’s baptismal ceremonies of Christendom?
7 In today’s baptismal ceremonies of Christendom the devices of godparents, breathing on face of the candidate to exorcise evil spirits, making the sign of the cross, imposition of hands, putting blessed salt in the mouth of the candidate, touching the ears and nostrils with spittle of the priest, anointing with oil, the threefold ablution, white veil, lighted candles, these and other appendages of demon practice or devil worship, comprising the unchristian practice of the so-called sacrament of baptism have been adopted into the religions of Christendom, Roman Catholic and others as well to varying extents and different degrees. So, we do wish to point out at this juncture that Christian immersion in water has nothing to do with pagan sacraments. In itself it does not bring forgiveness of sins or passage to heaven or adoption into the body of Christ. In order to determine what Christian baptism actually signifies, we turn, not to tradition and not to paganism, but to the holy Word of God, the Bible.—Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-8.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTIAN BAPTISM
8, 9. What fundamental truth concerning Christian baptism is essential for our understanding?
8 The Scripturally enjoined baptism of Christians signifies their dedication to Jehovah God; it gives evidence that they have made a dedication. In itself the immersion is not the dedication. It is a symbol of the dedication or stands for it and tells observers that the individual immersed has made a dedication. If we can see this truth that water baptism does stand for the dedication previously made by each individual, then other questions are plainly answered for us. The dedication must have been made prior to the immersion; otherwise there would be nothing for the immersion to symbolize. The immersion stands as a vivid reminder of the dedication. Christian water baptism is an outward symbol, as a testimony before witnesses, of the baptized one’s complete, unreserved and unconditional dedication and agreement to do the will of Jehovah God, the Universal Sovereign, through Christ Jesus his King. It means his past course of life is buried (as by the immersion in water) and he comes up from the water to do only God’s will and walk in newness of life thereafter.
9 In fact, baptism is an elementary Christian doctrine. So much so that it is classified with repentance and faith in God as being essentially an elementary necessity. “For this reason, now that we have left the elementary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying a foundation again, namely, repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, the teaching on baptisms.” (Heb. 6:1, 2, NW) That baptism is an immersion is shown in the facts concerning Israel, because that chosen nation is declared to have been baptized into Moses. “Our forefathers . . . all got baptized into Moses [how?] by means of the cloud and of the sea.” (1 Cor. 10:1, 2, NW) This was the people who afterward “answered unanimously and said: ‘All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.’” (Ex. 19:8, NW) The law under which the dedicated nation of Israel served terminated with Christ Jesus. (Rom. 10:4) He was immersed at the age of thirty in symbol of his dedication to his heavenly Father, Jehovah.
10. Corroboration of this significance of Christian immersion is found in what?
10 The significance of the immersion of Jesus shows the significance of immersion of his associates and followers and the purpose of Christian baptism today. Jesus made a solemn decision to serve God, and came to John at the river Jordan at the age of thirty, requesting John to baptize him. Jesus had no sins to be forgiven, because he was “guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners.” (Heb. 7:26, NW) And “he committed no sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth.” (1 Pet. 2:22, NW) Nevertheless, “Jesus also was baptized and, as he was praying, the heaven was opened up.”—Luke 3:21, NW.
11. Did the fortieth Psalm apply to Jesus at birth? When a lad of twelve years? When immersed at the age of thirty years? Why?
11 The baptism performed today in obedience to Jesus’ command is also in imitation of the example he set. Therefore the meaning of his baptism adheres to the baptism of his followers today. It was a symbol that was enacted openly, showing to John that he had dedicated himself to the doing of his Father’s will as that will was revealed to him in his Father’s Word. In the tenth chapter of Hebrews Paul applies the prophecy of the fortieth Psalm 40 to Christ Jesus, stating that “when he comes into the world” the prophecy applies. There is no question about the fact of Jesus’ being immersed at the age of thirty years, because there he performed that act of public confession. He had made a dedication to Jehovah, not at the time of his birth, because he was a little baby then; not when he was twelve years of age, because he did not perform Jehovah’s work in fulfillment of the wonderful prophecies relative to the Christ between the ages of twelve and thirty. No, at twelve years of age he did not say to his heavenly Father: ‘I have come to do your will,’ and then wait until he was thirty years of age before starting it, eighteen years later. Rather, he at his maturity, his majority of thirty, dedicated himself to Jehovah, and that dedication he symbolized by water immersion.
12, 13. Does the fact that Jesus formally came to do God’s will prove his immersion was in symbol of his dedication? Explain.
12 We know it is a dedication that Paul referred to respecting Jesus because both the fortieth Psalm that he quotes and the tenth chapter of Hebrews so state. It was a matter of Jesus’ coming to do God’s will, having God’s law in his heart. That the Almighty God recognized the baptism as a symbol of that dedication is shown by the fact that he sent his spirit upon Christ Jesus. “After being baptized Jesus immediately came up from the water; and, look! the heavens were opened up, and he saw descending like a dove God’s spirit coming upon him. Look! also, there was a voice from the heavens that said: ‘This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.’” (Matt. 3:16, 17, NW) These words were not spoken of Jesus when he was born a babe or when he was twelve years old, a lad, nor while he was a carpenter for the intervening eighteen years until he was thirty years of age.
13 Jesus’ dedication was accepted. It was recognized by Jehovah as was his baptism. His baptism was also observed by John who administered it by dipping Jesus beneath Jordan’s waters. Jesus was not there forgiven original or deliberate sin, because he had neither. He was not inducted into the body of Christ, because he became Christ, the Head of his body. He was buried beneath the water and raised from it, buried to his previous course and raised to the doing of his Father’s will, because that is what the fortieth Psalm and the tenth chapter of Hebrews state. ‘I am come to do your will, O God. Your law is within my heart.’
14. Then for you, what is an initial act of obedience after you have made a personal dedication of yourself to Jehovah?
14 Then for you, after you have made a personal dedication to Jehovah God, the immersion or baptism in water performed by a Christian of like faith is an initial act of obedience on your part, obedience to the will of Jehovah God in accordance with his wishes for you as expressed by Christ Jesus who himself had baptism performed upon his followers and who commanded that it be continued. “They came to John and said to him: ‘Rabbi, the man that was with you across the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, see, this one is baptizing and all are going to him.’ . . . Now, the Master became aware that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John.” (John 3:26; 4:1, NW) Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit.” (Matt. 28:19, NW) Following Jesus’ ascension to heaven, baptism was performed upon Christian converts. Until A.D. 36 these new Christians were Jews, circumcised Samaritans who were related to the Jews, and those who were originally non-Jews but had been made circumcised proselytes to the Jewish religion and now were converted to Christianity. Thereafter baptism included uncircumcised non-Jews when the Christian gospel was carried to Gentiles. Regarding Saul, who became the apostle Paul, the statement is: “He [Saul] recovered sight, and he rose and was baptized.”—Acts 9:18, NW.
SINS NOT FORGIVEN BY BAPTISM
15. Were Saul’s (Paul’s) sins forgiven by means of his baptism?
15 “Rise, get baptized and wash your sins away by your calling upon his name,” are the words that the apostle Paul stated came to him at the time of his conversion. (Acts 22:16, NW) Does this show that Paul had his sins forgiven by being baptized, thus in water washing them away? That is not what Paul states. He says that he was commanded to get baptized and that the washing away of his sins was by his calling upon the name of Jehovah through Christ Jesus. His calling on him in Jesus’ name showed faithful performance of his conversion, or dedication. Was Paul’s (or Saul’s) conversion to Christianity the same as his dedication? Yes, because his conversion means his turning, a turning to follow Jesus Christ.
16, 17. (a) Does repentance follow or precede immersion? (b) What shows further that baptism symbolizes dedication?
16 This is in harmony with the fact that the One setting the pattern for Christian immersion had no sins to forgive and is also in harmony with the fact that our repentance must precede our baptism. At the time of ‘turning to God,’ says Paul, “I went bringing the message that they should repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20, NW) “I thoroughly bore witness both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21, NW) Further showing that immersion symbolizes the complete dedication for a Christian who follows in the course marked out by Jesus we read: “In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Pet. 2:21, NW) “Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and follow me continually.” (Matt. 16:24, NW) The same burial to one’s past course as symbolized by water immersion, and the determination to do the will of Jehovah God through Christ Jesus, that is to say, the dedication, are also referred to by Jesus in a parallel passage. “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake day after day and follow me continually.”—Luke 9:23, NW.
17 There are some scriptures that associate forgiveness of sins with an immersion, and so, in order to give consideration to them, we now refer to the baptism of John.
THE BAPTISM BY JOHN THE BAPTIST
18. What circumstances necessitated the ministry of John the immerser?
18 John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christ, announcing him, and, through his ministry, preparing some of the nation of Israel to receive Jesus when the latter began his ministry following his dedication and baptism. This was necessary because, while the nation of Israel had the law of Moses to lead them to Christ, they had transgressed that law and sinned against it. If they were to be ready to recognize and accept the Messiah when he arrived, they certainly had to have a preparatory work done in their behalf. Therefore John preached a message of repentance to the Jews and in doing so administered strong rebukes against all unrighteousness that they practiced.
19. Why did John baptize along with his preaching?
19 But why did John baptize along with his preaching? Did the baptism take away the sins of the Israelites who were immersed by him? Another question helps answer: What was the purpose of John’s preaching? It was to bring about a change of heart, a repentance, so as to prepare the Israelites for Christ. Some did respond to John’s good message, repented, confessed their sins and were publicly baptized. This is recognized by the early Christians later on who referred to it in these words: “John, in advance of the entry of that One, had preached publicly to all the people of Israel the baptism of those repenting.” (Acts 13:24, NW) And again, “John baptized with the baptism of those repenting, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” (Acts 19:4, NW) We see, then, the Scriptures do not say that the baptism accomplished the forgiveness of sins, but it was performed upon those who had repented. That was the purpose of John’s teaching, and the repentance is what brought about the forgiveness of sins against the law covenant. The baptism itself was because of their repentance or was conditioned on it. It was a token of it or a picture of it and so the repentance was thus publicly signified before John and others. Public announcement was made and those persons who thus signified it were properly expected to accept the Messiah, Christ Jesus as announced by John the immerser.
20. (a) Demonstrate further the fact that John’s immersion was in symbol of previous repentance. (b) Show whether Jesus’ baptism for Christians was different from John’s or not.
20 The modern versions of the Christian Greek Scriptures (often called the New Testament) verify this point further, as observe the following renderings of John’s own words at Matthew 3:11: “I, on the one hand, baptize you with water because of your repentance.” (NW) “I am baptizing you in water in token of your repentance.” (AT) “I am baptizing you in water to picture your repentance.” (C. B. Williams) At Luke 3:3 we read that John the Baptist went “preaching baptism of those repenting for forgiveness of sins.” (NW) “Preaching a baptism conditioned on repentance.” (Williams) “Announcing a baptism whereby men repented, to have their sins forgiven.” (Knox) It was because of the very fact that John baptized persons in symbol of the repentance that they had made, repentance for sins against the Law, that he could not understand why Jesus came to him to be immersed, because Jesus had no sins against the Law. Yet to him Jesus stated: “Let it be, this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous.” (Matt. 3:15, NW) Further proof that Jesus’ baptism and Christian immersion is not the same as that performed by John the Baptist is in the account at Acts 19:1-5 (NW): “In the course of events, while Apollos was in Corinth, Paul went through the inland parts and came down to Ephesus, and found some disciples, and he said to them: ‘Did you receive holy spirit when you became believers?’ They said to him: ‘Why, we have never heard whether there is a holy spirit.’ And he said: ‘In what, then, were you baptized?’ They said: ‘In John’s baptism.’ Paul said: ‘John baptized with the baptism of those repenting, telling the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they got baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
21. What remains for consideration concerning baptized ones?
21 So Jesus set a pattern starting something new, not a baptism for remission of sins nor in symbol of repentance but the Christian immersion in symbol of the individual’s dedication, even such as Jesus himself thereby symbolized. See the following article concerning Christian requirements today for baptism and of baptized ones.